It’s the same-old-tune. Idea driven entrepreneurs with an idea to improve things run into city authorities who want to maintain the status quo. The most recent edition is playing out on the streets of New York where bicyclists are embracing a program which transportation authorities want to shut down.
GPS-tracking smart bicycles which rent for $1 and don’t have to be picked up or returned to permanent places could have been part of the answer to New York City’s traffic woes.
Before it could begin, the firm operating the bike service, Spin, dropped a demonstration in Queens subsequent to city transportation authorities sent a cease-and-desist note. What was intended to be a news conference welcoming the neon-orange bikes became a rally to bring them to the Rockaways.
The effort by a fresh crop of tech-savvy bike groups aimed to make riding less costly while increasing convenience. Existing bike-sharing companies didn’t like the competition.
The “dockless bike” plans allow customers to bike on their terms and are comparable to car-sharing programs which permit motorists to abandon cars where they can find parking within a specified operation area. The bicycles are rolled out quicker and easier than bike-share schemes that depend on an interface of stations which are both costly to produce and take up precious street and sidewalk space.
In New York City, the idea of ‘free-floating’ bicycles appeals to riders who say they often have to go out of their way to find a docking station or even travel to a different location to find one with a vacant parking slot.
“Often I’ve searched for a dock,” said Joe Flannagan, 56 and a financial worker. “I’m surprised I found one here at Citi Bike.”
Besides convenience, Spin’s price is another attraction. $1 for 30-minutes. New York City’s biggest bike-share program, Citi Bike, doesn’t offer a single-ride price. Instead, Citi Bike only offers a $12 one-day pass.
Many city leaders and transit advocates maintain dockless systems are unproven and piecemeal efforts are made with makeshift equipment and little oversight. The city’s transportation authorities claimed they did not know about Spin’s presentation until a few days before.
“As great as we want to encourage new technology, it has to be arranged systematically,” said Polly Trotenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner. “We don’t want the Wild West.”
Dockless bike-sharing programs are being used in other nations. Progressive American cities are becoming involved as well. Spin has over 2,500 bicycles in four cities and employs a ground crew in each city to maintain the bikes which have solar panels to power the rear wheel locks and high-density foam tires to resist punctures.
Paul White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, says the city should focus on fixing Citi Bikes’ problems instead of worrying about dockless bikes.